BY MARK LONDON
Minneapolis USBC and St. Paul USBC Hall of Famer Daron Hansen, 46, of Brooklyn Center, Minn., woke up one morning in late October 2016 to a loud, high-pitched ringing in his left ear. Hansen said that after a sneeze or a cough, “the world looked like it was going down a toilet bowl.”
A diagnosis of vertigo didn't explain the dizziness, blurred vision, or balance issues. Another specialist found the issue: cholesteatoma. A pea-sized piece of skin-cell matter had grown next to his left ear drum, gradually destroying the three bones used to hear (malleus, incus, and stapes). Corrective surgery still left Hansen deaf in his left ear.
It happened that the National Dizzy and Balance Center was located in the same building as the realty office where Hansen works. When the ordeal left Hansen, a member of the 'Lefty Mafia' USBC Open Championships group, unable to compete at the level at which he once did, it opened another door: He took the tournament director position of the Minnesota Junior Bowling Tour.
“I had no real control of this happening to me, so I've tried to accept it and let everything happen the way it is meant to happen,” said Hansen, for whom posting shots at the line now is a rare luxury as his condition impacts his balance in everyday physical movements. “Had this not happened, I never would have become a tournament director.”
The experience also left Hansen with an appreciation for the things that truly matter in life. The words of late friend Jerry Ernster, also a member of the Minnesota State USBC Hall of Fame, lingered with him.
“Jerry always told me at some point you will be done and it will be over. Just make sure you create some memories that you can remember and share,” Hansen said. “I believe today's society moves too fast and people don't take time to create these memories and stories.
“My wife [Jeni] and sons [Dylan and Blake] were amazing and I hope they realize how much I love them and how much their continued support means to me,” Hansen added.
Family support proved just as indispensable to Chelsea Gilliam, the women's head bowling coach at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla., and someone who has traveled a unique path for someone not yet 30 years of age. At age 23 in October 2013 when she was head coach at Union College in Kentucky, Gilliam was diagnosed with Stage 0 breast cancer. A second diagnosis of Stage 4 came in May 2016 as cells had spread to her left femur.
Gilliam and three other women were selected by the USBC as the annual 'Fabulous Four' group in 2015 when women were asked to submit essays describing the impact of cancer in their lives.
Since winning an Illinois High School Association team title, then the 2012 NAIA women's national team championship with the University of Pikeville, she had hoped to bowl professionally. With a sponsor's help, that came true last summer.
In July, Gilliam finally got to bowl 'The Luci,' more formally known as the Storm PBA/PWBA Striking Against Breast Cancer Mixed Doubles, the annual tournament Donna Conners holds in honor of late Luci Bonneau, a longtime Houston-area scratch bowler and bowling-center manager who succumbed to cancer. The tournament raises tens of thousands of dollars each year for breast cancer research.
“I don't know that there's a word to describe how much it meant to me,” Gilliam said. “It was surreal. I've always wanted to bowl it, but it was so much more than just the experience. The fact the top bowlers in the world make sure this is one of their events to raise money and awareness for a cause that maybe has affected more of them than I know is absolutely amazing,” Gilliam said.
Even with ongoing treatments, signs of her condition remain.
For Gilliam, “Most things are more difficult to some degree, some only slightly harder, some much harder. My energy level decreases much faster than before. My body is fighting a disease while I'm still doing my everyday things, so I get tired faster.”
Just as the wisdom of friends and support of family helped Hansen persevere, Gilliam expressed gratitude for her parents, Karen and Matt, “for everything they have done for me throughout my life, but especially the last five years. They've made sacrifices for me I will never be able to repay. Whether it's working extra hours to help financially, flying up to be with me during and after surgeries, even watching my cat while I move across the country.
“One of my favorite phrases is, 'You don't know how strong you are until being strong is the only option,'” she added. “I've had people tell me they don't know how I do it. Some days, I don't know I do it, either, but I'm a lot stronger than I thought to be able to live everyday life with cancer.
"I wish and pray every day that I didn't have to go through this, but these are the cards I was dealt, so I'm going to live life the best I can. I told someone the other day I'm going to live my life and cancer is just going to have to come along for the ride.”
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